Bob Jonsen leads competitor in Santa Clara County sheriff race
Retired Palo Alto police chief Bob Jonsen at his election night party on Nov. 8, 2022. Photo courtesy of Bob Jonsen.

    Last updated 5 p.m. on Tuesday. The next update is 5 p.m. on Wednesday.

    Former Palo Alto police chief Robert “Bob” Jonsen remains the frontrunner in a photo-finish race against retired Santa Clara County sheriff Capt. Kevin Jensen to replace former Sheriff Laurie Smith in initial returns Tuesday afternoon.

    Jonsen still leads the race with 50.7% of the vote, while Jensen trails with 49.3%. About 90% of ballots have been counted.

    Santa Clara County is set to elect its first new sheriff in more than two decades. The race will determine who takes over the county’s top law enforcement position, a job that’s been mired in controversy for years after its former leader faced accusations of mismanagement and corruption. Smith had been with the department since 1974 and was first elected sheriff in 1998. She won reelection until she resigned last month.

    On Tuesday, Jonsen celebrated at an election night party with Mountain View Mayor Lucas Ramirez, and watched the results closely as initial counts showed a tight race ahead.

    “I’m comfortable with how they’re coming in but we’ve got a long way to go,” Jonsen told San José Spotlight. “Right now, I’m very pleased with the results. I think it shows the voters are looking for change.”

    Jensen said he’s not out of the race yet—especially after gaining thousands of votes in recent updates, narrowing the gap between him and Jonsen.

    “I think those votes are out there and I’m hopeful,” Jensen said Tuesday night. “I truly believe that someone who just drove up shouldn’t run the department.”

    Both candidates have been critical of transparency issues at the sheriff’s office and promised a new chapter for the troubled department.

    Smith was found guilty of corruption and willful misconduct last week in a civil trial stemming from accusations the sheriff failed to report gifts and had awarded concealed gun permits to friends and campaign donors.

    In October, Jonsen accused Jensen of offering former candidate for sheriff Christine Nagaye a position at the department in exchange for her support.

    Jensen said he sought Nagaye’s endorsement, but denied promising her a job. The retired captain responded to Jonsen’s accusation by saying his opponent was secretly backed by Smith.

    Jonsen worked as chief of police in Palo Alto from 2018 until he stepped down in January to run for sheriff. He also led the Menlo Park Police Department for five years and worked for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department for more than three decades.

    Addressing the mental health crisis in county jails has been a focal point of Jonsen’s campaign. In Palo Alto, he oversaw the launch of a psychiatric emergency response team, pairing mental health clinicians with officers to respond to mental health distress calls.

    Jonsen has also promised better transparency in response to Smith’s management of the department and nationwide demands for police reform.

    In the wake of widespread protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd, Jonsen pushed to change the police department’s use of force policy and published a less redacted version of its policy manual. Jonsen is endorsed by Santa Clara County Supervisors Susan Ellenberg and Joe Simitian, as well as Congresswoman Anna Eshoo and Assemblymembers Evan Low and Marc Berman.

    Jensen said he believes bi-partisan collaboration is a more productive approach to effective policing than “siloed and divisive bunkers of partisan affiliations.”

    A longtime and vocal critic of his Smith, his former boss, Jensen’s campaign focused on fixing corruption and mismanagement at the department, issues that came to light under her management.

    Jensen’s campaign focused on improving mental health resources for incarcerated individuals, ensuring his office follows the law when awarding concealed gun permits and rooting out mismanagement by department leadership.

    He unsuccessfully challenged Smith in 2014. Jensen jumped into the race again last year, the same day the Board of Supervisors passed a vote of no confidence in Smith.

    His father served time in a Louisiana prison for armed robbery when Jensen was a child, and he credits law enforcement for saving his life.

    Jensen is endorsed by the Deputy Sheriff’s Association, Santa Clara County Supervisor Mike Wasserman, San Jose Councilmember Magdalena Carrasco and Gilroy Mayor Marie Blankley.

    This story will be updated.

    Contact Brian Howey at [email protected] or @SteelandBallast on Twitter.

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